For most of us, relationships define our lives and give us meaning. This isn’t true just in our personal lives, but in our professional lives. Some of the most memorable moments in my career are the interactions, conversations, laughter, relationships that I’ve had with my customers. Of course, as a salesperson, I also smile at the memories of closing a deal, but as we all know, people buy from people - and that win doesn’t happen without the relationship with your customer.
As we know, starting any relationship takes a lot of work. There needs to be a connection, trust, and mutual benefit or output for both parties. In sales, it often means you have to spend time and effort to not only find your “champion,” but to grow the relationship into a true partnership. Over the last 15 years, I have been successful at what we call “champion building.” There’s nothing I love more than helping those champions and their organizations solve business challenges and reach their goals.
As we get to the end of the year, I do what most people do. I reflect back on the previous twelve months and ask myself, “How could I do better, either for myself or for my customers?”
This week, the statistics below were brought to my attention and they actually stopped me in my tracks.
After blinking and making sure I was reading these stats correctly, I uncomfortably reframed the question in my head to: “How could I do better, either for myself or for my customers, if I wasn’t a woman?”
While I have never seen the statistics laid out like this before, over the years of my career, I have brought this up to my husband and friends as a barrier that I have felt in some scenarios.
I’m a woman in tech, which means more often than not, I’m the minority gender in customer meetings and with potential prospects. Because of this, I tend to not ask male prospects or customers to lunches, dinner, coffee, etc. on a first meeting. Instead, I take first meetings via a call or in their office and then take the relationship from there.
This has nothing to do with my own sense of safety. It’s not about avoiding some potential threat. Nor is it about upholding any moral principles.
It has everything to do with me being aware that some men would feel uncomfortable being 1:1 with a woman.
I don’t remember a specific instance or meeting that instilled this in me. It was something that I noticed somewhat subconsciously early on in my career and just sort of kept as a practice without a second thought to it. .
Obviously, the reality is severely unfortunate, but these stats don’t lie. As I’ve gotten older, my professional relationships with male customers have gotten easier to start and nurture, but the statistics regarding junior level females hits the mark in my experience as well. What’s even more troublesome is the situation isn’t improving - the year over year stats are worse, not better.
And it’s not because women aren’t successful in sales roles. Gong.Io recently collected their own data points on sales reps and concluded:
- Women progress deals to the next opportunity stage at a higher rate than men do.
- They also close deals at a higher and faster rate than men.
- In our data set, men had a 49% likelihood of moving opportunities to the next stage, while women boasted 54%.
- And women’s win rates were 11% higher than men’s (on average).
It’s clear that women in sales can and are KILLING IT! Arguably, more than their male counterparts. But given men’s trepidation with being alone with women in a professional setting, it makes me wonder about women “getting their foot in the door” when it comes to sales.
Are there organizations out there that could benefit from the software that I have sold over the years but I was never able to get in the front door because someone felt uncomfortable taking a meeting with me? Not only are these avoided opportunities for me in my career, these are avoided opportunities for amazing companies who could have improved their bottom line.
I have had a successful career. This is thanks in part to the many amazing mentors, colleagues, partners, customers, who have supported me and helped me achieve this level of success - many of them men! The norm, in my experience, are for these professional interactions to be positive experiences. But as these statistics show, there are bad actors and bad incidents, and we need to draw awareness to the problem and work on improving the situation for women at every stage in her career.
So how can we all get better?
- Listen, talk, learn: There’s no question this can be an uncomfortable topic to discuss - it wasn’t easy for me to even write this blog. But we’ve proved time and time again silence won’t solve this issue. The more we talk about it, recognize where we can make improvements, and work towards inclusion goals, the better off we will all be.
- Don't beat yourself up: This particular subject has made me realize that I had my own unconscious biases that I need to work on. I "assumed" that a male prospect would be uncomfortable having lunch with me before we have met - so I never asked. If you start to learn more about this subject and discover you have your own unconscious biases - what a great start to recognize where changes need to be made!
- Support: At ThoughtSpot, we have a #balanceforbetter Slack channel for men and women to share, discuss and learn about diversity and inclusion. Find a medium like this, or a women in the workforce event or group in your area and attend and learn and support. If you can become a public ally, then even better!
It’s clear this is a problem facing women building professional relationships in every industry. What’s also clear to me is that it will take participation from everyone - men and women - to course correct. And it starts with an honest, real conversation.